Ryan Saunders

And-Ones: Booster Shots, Plumlee, Saunders, Ramasar

The NBA and the Players Association are recommending booster shots for players and personnel who received their Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 shots more than six months ago, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press tweets. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago should also get a booster shot, per the NBA and NBPA. The league is recommending that those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine get either a Moderna or Pfizer booster.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • Former NBA big man Miles Plumlee is close to signing with Guang Zhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia reports. Plumlee has previously played in the CBA. He appeared in 19 games with Atlanta during the 2018/19 season, his most recent NBA stint.
  • Former Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders has found a new gig. He’ll be joining the University of Northwestern-St Paul faculty as an adjunct professor in the spring to teach a class on Sports Leadership, according to Jon Krawczynski  of The Athletic (Twitter links). However, Saunders intends to return to coaching soon. He had several chances to get back into the league but chose to take this season off for family reasons, per Krawczynski.
  • NBA agent Todd Ramasar believes the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will impose penalties on players who try to force trades shortly after signing long-term deals, as he told Ian Begley of SNY TV. “I do think there will be. Without getting into specifics, (I think it will be) similar to how the NBA probably adjusted fines for owners as it relates to tampering,” Ramasar said in an in-depth interview.

Northwest Notes: Simons, SGA, Gupta, Saunders, Nuggets

The Trail Blazers have talked in the past about Anfernee Simons handling backup point guard duties behind Damian Lillard, but CJ McCollum has often played that role, with Simons spending time primarily at the two. However, new head coach Chauncey Billups seems committed to giving Simons a longer look at the point guard spot, and the 22-year-old says he intends to take “full advantage” of the opportunity, as Jason Quick of The Athletic details.

“I want CJ and Ant to be playing some backup point guard,” Billups said. “A lot of my conversations with (Simons) is about that — him being able to play a lot of backup point guard minutes, you know, running the show.”

The Blazers will be keeping a close eye on how Simons responds to the increased responsibilities, since he’s eligible for a rookie scale extension before the regular season begins. A source tells Quick that Simons’ agent Bill Duffy and the Blazers haven’t yet engaged in discussions about a new deal, but are expected to talk closer to the October 18 deadline.

“I don’t know anything about the extension; I’m focused on the season,” Simons said. “I know it’s a big season for me. So I’m not worried about it. My priority is to go out there and play well.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Discussing his new maximum-salary contract extension, Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander called the deal a “dream come true,” but views it as just one achievement to cross off on his long list of career goals, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. “I still have 90% of my list, so I won’t stop,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who added that he feels “150%” healthy after missing the end of last season with a foot injury.
  • When the Timberwolves‘ owners – Glen Taylor, Alex Rodriguez, and Marc Lore – spoke to reporters this week, all three stressed that Sachin Gupta is in charge of the basketball operations department and didn’t mention a looming front office search, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. While that doesn’t necessarily mean they view Gupta as the long-term solution, the timing may not be right to conduct a full-fledged search with the regular season around the corner, Krawczynski notes.
  • Former Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders is in attendance at the Nuggets‘ training camp this week, tweets Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. As Wolfson explains, Saunders is close with Denver head coach Michael Malone and executives Tim Connelly and Calvin Booth.

Details On Timberwolves’ Dismissal Of Gersson Rosas

The Timberwolves‘ dismissal of president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas was made for “performance reasons,” a high-ranking team source told Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic. The team’s lack of success during Rosas’ tenure was a key factor in the decision, and complaints from staffers about Rosas’ leadership also played a part, per The Athletic’s duo.

However, another issue that factored into the timing of the move was the fact that the Wolves recently learned that Rosas – who is married – had a “consensual intimate relationship” with a member of the organization, according to Krawczysnki and Charania, who suggest that the relationship made several people within the franchise uncomfortable.

The Athletic’s deep dive into the situation in Minnesota’s front office uncovered sources who said Rosas worked his staffers long hours without giving them much input into personnel decisions. Some members of the front office took issue with those decisions, such as the one to include such light protections (top-three) on the first-round pick the Wolves sent Golden State in the D’Angelo Russell trade.

Rosas did have backers within the organization, including some who reached out to The Athletic in recent weeks to defend the way things were going, per Krawczynski and Charania. Some of Rosas’ defenders believe the pandemic and the change of ownership were factors that contributed to tension in the front office, while Rosas himself “vehemently disputed” that there were any significant problems with the team’s culture.

Still, many of The Athletic’s sources described Rosas’ tenure as dysfunctional, and when those complaints reached ownership, Glen Taylor, Alex Rodriguez, and Marc Lore decided the situation was untenable and a move needed to be made sooner rather than later.

“It’s hard,” said one staffer who followed Rosas to Minnesota after he was hired in 2019. “He’s not who I thought he was.”

The report from Krawczynski and Charania is worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber. Here are some of the other highlights:

  • New interim head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta is well-regarded by team officials and is expected to get a chance to earn the permanent job, sources tell The Athletic. However, Krawczynski and Charania note that Gupta did “butt heads” with Rosas this summer when Gupta sought to make a lateral move to the Rockets for a similar job with higher pay, and Rosas blocked him. Rosas defended the decision by saying that the move wouldn’t have been a promotion, and it was too close to the draft and free agency to let a top executive with so much knowledge of Minnesota’s plans leave to join a rival. According to The Athletic, Rosas “banished” Gupta from the team’s offices in August and allowed him to seek employment elsewhere at that point, but Gupta decided to stay with the Wolves after ownership got involved.
  • Some player agents had issues with Rosas’ negotiating tactics, according to Krawczynski and Charania, who point to the team’s recent contract talks with Jordan McLaughlin as one example. A source tells The Athletic that Rosas reneged on promises about the role McLaughlin would have going forward after Patrick Beverley was acquired. Although agents recognized Rosas’ primary allegiance was to the organization, they expected better treatment in certain scenarios, according to The Athletic’s duo. “Rosas was the cause of mishaps and pulled his promises,” the source said of the McLaughlin negotiations.
  • Rosas’ decision to replace head coach Ryan Saunders with Chris Finch during the season without considering any other candidates – including minority candidates – wasn’t popular with some staffers, and neither was the decision to part with veteran scout Zarko Durisic last year, per Krawczysnki and Charania. Some people believed those moves flew in the face of Rosas’ portrayal of the organization as a “family.”
  • Krawczynski and Charania say Rosas was “working feverishly” this offseason to try to acquire Ben Simmons, who was viewed by some people in the organization as the roster’s missing piece. It’s unclear if Gupta will have the same level of interest in the Sixers star.
  • A report from Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report confirms and adds some details to many of the issues reported by The Athletic, including the recent discovery of Rosas’ “consensual extramarital affair” with a team staffer.

Timberwolves Notes: Towns, Saunders, Russell, Vanterpool

Amid the turmoil of a mid-season coaching change, the Timberwolves got some good news Sunday night as star center Karl-Anthony Towns indicated he foresees a long future with the organization, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Towns was asked about his intentions following a loss to the Knicks that dropped Minnesota’s record to a league-worst 7-24.

“If you want to build a legacy we got to win,” Towns said. “And I want to build my legacy here so I want to win with the Wolves, and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to keep step-by-step, brick-by-brick, building something and a culture here that’s going to stand here for a long time.”

Towns, 25, still has three more years on the extension he signed in 2018, paying him $31.65MM, $33.83MM and $36MM through the 2023/24 season. He could opt to demand a trade, as other stars have done in losing situations, but Sunday’s comments should offer some hope to the Wolves that he’s committed to turning things around in Minnesota.

There’s more on the Timberwolves:

  • Ryan Saunders knew for weeks that his job was in jeopardy, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Players had been openly speculating about a coaching change, and the only question was whether management would keep him in place through the end of the season. Owner Glen Taylor had resisted the move because Towns was out of the lineup so much this season due to injuries and a battle with COVID-19. However, Minnesota was just 1-7 since Towns returned February 10, which was enough for Taylor to endorse firing Saunders.
  • Obvious tension built up between guard D’Angelo Russell and Saunders as losses mounted, Krawczynski adds in the same story. A long-time friend of Towns, Russell was brought in at last year’s trade deadline to provide a second star for the team to build around. However, because of injuries and the hiatus, Saunders only got to coach Towns and Russell together in five games.
  • Several NBA players questioned why Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool wasn’t chosen to replace Saunders, with the loudest support for the former Trail Blazers assistant coming from Portland stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, notes Jamie Hudson of NBC Sports. “How the hell do you not hire David Vanterpool,” Lillard tweeted, “and he’s right there on the bench… and has been in front office SUCCESSFULLY and on the front of a bench of a winning team SUCCESSFULLY (7 years) … and also has played a major role in the development of a dominant backcourt smdh!” According to Krawczynski, there has been speculation throughout the league that Chris Finch has been on top of president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas‘ wish list since he joined the Wolves two years ago, and Rosas was willing to endure criticism over not considering a minority candidate such as Vanterpool.

Timberwolves Fire Ryan Saunders, Hire Chris Finch

9:35am: Minnesota has officially announced Finch as its new head coach.

“I would like to thank Glen Taylor and Gersson Rosas for this incredible opportunity to be the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Finch said. “I look forward to working hand and hand with Gersson to build and lead a team that Timberwolves fans will be proud of. We have excellent pieces in place and I can’t wait to get to work.”


5:43am: The Timberwolves have parted ways with head coach Ryan Saunders, the team announced in a press release late on Sunday night. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Saunders’ dismissal.

“We would like to thank Ryan for his time and commitment to the Timberwolves organization and wish him the best in the future,” Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “These are difficult decisions to make, however this change is in the best interest of the organization’s short and long-term goals.”

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Wojnarowski, Minnesota already has a replacement lined up for Saunders, having reached a deal to hire Raptors assistant Chris Finch. The two sides are finalizing a multiyear contract that will make him the Wolves’ permanent head coach rather than an interim replacement.

Saunders, who took the reins on Minnesota’s sidelines following Tom Thibodeau‘s exit from the franchise in 2018/19, compiled a 43-94 (.314) record across parts of three seasons with the team. Those Wolves clubs were plagued by injuries, with franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns missing 54 of Saunders’ 137 games with the team, but underperformed even when healthy, finishing 14th in the West a year ago and ranking last in the conference so far this year.

Finch, meanwhile, has interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs in recent years, but will be getting an opportunity to run his own NBA team for the first time. He did have a stint as a G League head coach with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers from 2009-11 and won an NBAGL title with the club before becoming an assistant for the Rockets from 2011-16. Rosas was part of Houston’s front office during that time, giving him a familiarity with Finch.

Since leaving the Rockets, Finch has been an associate head coach for the Nuggets (2016-17), Pelicans (2017-20), and Raptors (2020-21). He has a reputation of improving teams’ offenses, as Blake Murphy of The Athletic observes.

According to Wojnarowski, Finch is expected to officially begin the job on Tuesday when the Wolves play the Bucks in Milwaukee, and is expected to keep the team’s coaching staff intact for the time being. That staff includes associate head coach David Vanterpool and assistants Bryan Gates and Pablo Prigioni, Woj notes.

Hiring another team’s assistant coach after making an in-season coaching change is fairly unusual for an NBA team, according to Wojnarowski, who says it hasn’t happened since Memphis hired Lionel Hollins away from Milwaukee in 2009. Murphy suggests (via Twitter) that Toronto is probably more likely to promote a coach from the Raptors 905 once the G League season ends than to bring in someone from outside the organization to replace Finch on Nick Nurse‘s staff.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Northwest Notes: Towns, Saunders, Russell, Elleby, Daigneault

Karl-Anthony Towns‘ return to action remains up in the air, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets. The Timberwolves star has been sidelined since testing positive for COVID-19 in mid-January. Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said Towns has been working out with the team on the road as he tries to get back into playing shape. He hasn’t played since January 13.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves had lost eight of 10 games without Towns entering Friday’s action, and D’Angelo Russell and Saunders don’t seem to be on the same page when the team attempts to close out games, Krawczynski notes. It takes time for a coach and a point guard to build trust, and they are working on that process right now, Krawczynski adds. Saunders is also struggling to maximize the backcourt combination of Russell and natural point guard Ricky Rubio.
  • Trail Blazers rookie CJ Elleby impressed coach Terry Stotts with his overall production when injuries thrust Elleby into the rotation on Thursday, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. The 46th pick of the draft, Elleby had 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes. “He asserted himself into the game rather than just watching others play,” Stotts said.
  • Thunder coach Mark Daigneault likes the makeshift format of playing the same opponent in back-to-back games this season, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. “In the NBA schedule, you run into something that bothers you and you end up chasing your shadow but you’ve got a different opponent coming around the corner,” Daigneault said. “And so it’s hard to really spend too much time reflecting on the last game because you’ve got to turn the page. The series allow you to do both.”

Wolves Owner Says Ryan Saunders’ Job Is Safe

The Timberwolves aren’t considering a coaching change despite a frustrating start to the season, team owner Glen Taylor tells Charley Walters of The St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Minnesota is last in the Western Conference with a 3-11 record, second only to the Pistons for the worst mark in the league. However, Taylor doesn’t want to assess head coach Ryan Saunders‘ performance until the team has more time with Karl-Anthony Towns, who has missed 10 games because of a wrist injury and COVID-19. The Wolves are 1-9 without Towns.

“I haven’t even talked to (president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas) about that — he hasn’t brought it up,” Taylor said of a possible coaching change, “but you’re asking me, and it’s probably hard to tell a guy that you aren’t doing the job when your best guy isn’t playing.”

Taylor admits being disappointed with the way his team has played so far. Minnesota was expecting to be more competitive with Towns and D’Angelo Russell leading the franchise. The addition of top draft pick Anthony Edwards and an offseason deal for Ricky Rubio sparked hopes that the Wolves might be able to contend for at least a play-in spot.

“The team hasn’t done as well as I think anybody anticipated,” Taylor said. “We lost some games we thought we could win. Probably a couple of the young guys are doing better than we anticipated, and that’s good. But overall, you’ve got to win. Karl being out really hurts, because we just have no flow going yet.”

Taylor also commented on the lack of movement on a potential sale of the Wolves and the Lynx of the WNBA. He is reportedly seeking $1.5 billion for both teams.

“I haven’t found anything that for sure says I should move ahead,” Taylor said. “… The other question: Is now a good time to sell when you don’t have fans? And it’s not a good time.”

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Horford, Jerome, Krejci, Saunders

Michael Porter Jr. missed his 10th consecutive game on Tuesday due to the league’s health and safety protocols but he could join the Nuggets on their five-game road trip that begins Friday in Phoenix, according to an Associated Press report. Porter hasn’t played since he racked up 30 points and 10 rebounds against Sacramento on December 29. “He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here,”  coach Michael Malone said. “When we do get him back, he will be a welcome sight.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Al Horford and Ty Jerome did not travel with the Thunder at the start of their road trip this week, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. Horford’s wife just gave birth to their fourth child and it’s uncertain if Horford will rejoin the team during the trip. Jerome, who was acquired from Phoenix as a throw-in to the Chris Paul deal, has yet to make his Oklahoma City debut. He’s rehabbing from a left ankle sprain.
  • The Thunder’s second-round pick, Vit Krejci, will be stashed on the roster of their G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, Mussatto tweets. Krejci is rehabbing from an ACL injury that he suffered in September.
  • Ryan Saunders deserves more time to get the Timberwolves righted, Jim Souhan of The Minneapolis Star Tribune opines. The current roster doesn’t seem capable of competing without a healthy Karl-Anthony Towns and the young coach should be given a chance to show what he can do when Towns returns after testing positive for COVID-19. Towns had a wrist injury earlier in the season and has only appeared in four games.

Northwest Notes: Saunders, Nuggets, Pokusevski, Wolves

Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders sought advice from workers in other professional sports leagues about how to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Chris Hine of the Star Tribune.

Saunders spoke with Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski — both of whom are in leagues that have already started to navigate through COVID-19 — to ask for advice on how to conduct meetings and adapt while following league protocols.

“We did a number of Zooms during the hiatus, during the pandemic, just to hear about best practices and how they were going to attack the protocols and what they were doing to do things the right way…” Saunders said. “Kevin, he was a big help as well talking about how they actually have done installs [of systems] over video conference.”

Saunders, 34, is the youngest head coach in the league. He was promoted by the team in May and is known for doing his homework and due-diligence, something other teams could learn from as they navigate the uncharted waters of playing through a pandemic.

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division:

  • Kendra Andrews of The Athletic examines several notes related to the Nuggets, including the team’s rotation without Will Barton. Barton missed the team’s first preseason game on Saturday due to ‘back/knee injury recovery,’ according to Andrews, after also missing portions of the team’s live scrimmages last week. Denver is coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals, accruing an impressive 46-27 record during the regular season.
  • Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokusevski is drawing from his previous experience in Greece to help him transition to the NBA, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. Pokusevski, a seven-footer, was drafted No. 17 overall last month at just 18 years old. “It’s a bigger level, but it’s pretty [much] the same,” Pokusevski said of his situation. “Here I’m alone by myself right now, but I have experience about that. Listen to everyone. Listen, listen, listen and just learn, and everything’s going to be OK.”
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic examines the Timberwolves‘ season outlook, exploring the team’s rotation, projection and more. Minnesota sports a young nucleus of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, and Karl-Anthony Towns, among others, and will seek a playoff berth in the Western Conference this coming season.

Timberwolves Notes: Chemistry, Beasley, Rosas, Saunders

Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders believes the team built chemistry and relationships during their mini-camp, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Our No. 1 goal within this week was to compete,” Saunders said. “Because it’s been a really long time since they’ve been able to do that in more of a structured setting. Then we also wanted to connect with this group. While you’re connecting, you also want to be able to build relationships. We talked about it where the team that is the most connected … will get a jump start on next season whenever next season starts.”

We have more on the Timberwolves:

  • Team president Gersson Rosas offered support for restricted free agent Malik Beasley, who was recently arrested for narcotics possession and possession of a stolen gun, Hine writes in a separate story. Rosas has said he wants to re-sign Beasley, who was acquired from the Nuggets in February. “He’s family. We’re going to support him,” Rosas said. “We’re going to do the best that we can. But he’s got some things he’s got to take care of. The legal process has some things that have to be processed and we’ll go from there, but we’re a family and we work through things together.”
  • Rosas has formed a strong bond with Saunders because they share the same vision for the franchise, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic“When you have a big-picture perspective and you understand that you’re trying to reset a program, you have to have that perspective in place. I’ve talked about it and I’m fortunate I have a head coach that values the same thing,” Rosas said. “We don’t want sacrifices for the sake of incremental wins. That does nothing for us in the long term.”
  • What are the biggest questions surrounding the team this offseason? We took a closer look in our Offseason Preview.